There is a very popular board game in Mexico called Lotería. Lottery, the literal translation to English, corresponds to its definition, since its outcome is governed by chance. It consists of a deck of 54 cards, and several game boards displaying a random array of 16 pictures from the deck, showing different objects, plants, animals or characters (photo at the top of this post). It is played in a similar way to Bingo (sometimes even called Mexican Bingo), but instead of calling a number and a letter, cards are drawn from the deck, one at a time; the caller initially hides the card’s picture, reciting a verse or riddle relating to it instead, as a hint, then finally shows the image and calls it by name. Players have a bunch of dry beans or coins and mark the spot on their boards if they have the particular picture that was called. The game ends when a player completes a pre-determined pattern of marked pictures: a row, a column, a subset of four pictures in a square, or sometimes, the whole 16-square board. The photo below illustrates a series of cards that had been called from the deck, and a sample board being marked accordingly with beans, with a completed top row:
When players complete a winning pattern, they must be the first to shout ¡Lotería!
Reciting a verse about the picture before calling the name of the card, gives the players a chance to score ahead of the rest if they manage to solve the riddle. There are some standard verses for each of the 54 cards on the deck, but some callers go the extra mile and improvise their own, sometimes catering to the audience (children, ladies only, etc.) or even as social commentary on current events, which became almost a kind of political movement for some associations of players.
The game came to Mexico in the 18th century, originally from Italy but via Spain, and was played mostly in public places, oftentimes including a wager; by the mid 1800s, printed game sets were sold commercially. French entrepreneur Clemente Jacques imported and sold many items in Mexico, such as grains, canned goods, and games, including Lotería sets; in 1887, he proposed a now classic set of images for a Lotería game printed in Mexico. Incidentally, Clemente Jacques™ also opened the first food processing plant in Latin America on the same year, first introducing canned jalapeños, then adding preserves, canned meat and many more products; the company still operates, offering their classic staples, as well as more cosmopolitan products, such as ketchup and salad dressings.
One particular card – # 48 La Chalupa – was so popular, that many Mexican Americans in Texas grew up calling the game “Chalupa”:
The traditional verse for this card goes like this:
“Rema que rema Lupita, sentada en su chalupita.”
“Rows, and rows some more, Lupita, sitting in her little chalupa.”
Although some people might think of a chalupa as a Taco Bell™ menu item, the chalupa – from the Basque word Txalupa – is a type of small boat, used as a shallop, water taxi, whaling boat, or in the case of Central Mexico, as a way to transport and sell fresh produce, flowers or food, just like Lupita, above. Taco Bell™ based the name of its product on a Mexican corn dough preparation, called chalupa for being shaped as this type of boat. In my next posts, more about this and also, to celebrate Canada Day on July 1st, the story of a true Canadian chalupa!